Although it’s the capital of Alaska, Juneau is unreachable by road, completely surrounded as it is by water, forest, and the massive Juneau Icefield, not to mention two towering mountains, Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts. It is, however, thoroughly accessible by boat on any given day in season, 4 or 5 cruise ships may be in port, from megaships to microships. Ships dock right in the downtown area, along Marine Way, and downtown can be completely overrun by visitors and tour buses from late May through September.
Tourism woes aside, modern Juneau is a product of Alaska’s golden past. It was no more than a fishing outpost for local Tlingit Indians until 1880, when gold was discovered in a creek off the Gastineau Channel. That Gold Rush heritage is kept alive not only in local museums but in several vintage downtown bars with a carefully curated frontier rowdiness.
Top draw About 13 miles from downtown, the 12-mile-long Mendenhall Glacier is the most visited glacier in the world. Visitors go out from Juneau to the glacier by raft, canoe, bicycle, helicopter, or even dog-sled. Nature trails from the visitor center afford good views, but it’s well worth the extra effort to book an excursion that allows you to hike on the glacier itself.
Local color Many years ago, a bull terrier named Patsy Ann was Juneau’s official town greeter, trotting down to the docks whenever a ship came in. Long dead now, she’s memorialized with a bronze statue in Marine Park, where the cruise ships dock.
Stretch your legs From the docks, the Mount Roberts Tramway (http://mountrobertstramway.com ) will whisk you up the mountain on a 6-minute ride. From the station, a network of paths lead to really incredible views. It’s 6 miles round-trip to the summit, though there are also several shorter loops.
Slice of history Just south of town, the AJ Gold Mine/Gastineau Mill (http://ajgastineauminetour.com ) was once one of the world’s richest. Today, you can don a hard hat and venture down a 360-foot mine tunnel, where experienced miners demonstrate hard-rock mining.
Bottoms up East of downtown, there’s a tasting room at the popular Alaskan Brewing Company (www.alaskanbeer.com ).